As we head into peak sunscreen season, it’s a good time to review how to best protect our skin from the dangers of sun exposure. We know we need sunscreen, but with so many lotions, potions, creams and sprays, how do we know if we are really protecting ourselves against burns or worse…cancer. The following tips can help reduce risk and maximize your protection.
Choose broad spectrum protection. Look for a sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA and UVB radiation. These are called broad spectrum sunscreens and will protect against burns (from UVB rays), aging (from UVA) and cancer (both UVA and UVB). Sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide listed as the active ingredient provide protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.
Choose SPF 30 or greater. Sun protection factor (SPF) represents the sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB radiation, and there are two types of sunscreens: chemical (organic) and mineral (inorganic/physical).
- Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV radiation and converting it into heat. Chemical sunscreens commonly list avobenzone octinoxate, and/or oxybenzone as active ingredients. This is not to be confused with benzene, which is a known carcinogen and should be avoided.
- Mineral sunscreens form a physical film on the skin that reflects the UV light. Mineral sunscreens frequently list titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as active ingredients.
Now that you know the importance of using sunscreen, here’s a quick rundown about how to use them correctly.
The “teaspoon rule.” Most often, we do not apply enough sunscreen to achieve the full protection offered by the product we purchase, resulting in pesky burns. To ensure that you are applying the correct amount of sunscreen, use the teaspoon rule. Apply one teaspoon to your face and neck, two teaspoons to the front and back of your torso, one teaspoon to each arm, and two teaspoons to each leg.
Timing is everything. Sunscreen must be applied 15-30 minutes before sun or water exposure to allow the formation of a protective barrier in/on the skin.
- For mineral sunscreens, wait 15 minutes before entering water or sun exposure.
- For chemical sunscreens, wait 30 minutes before entering the water or sun exposure.
Reapply. Sun protection only lasts for 40-80 minutes, depending on its rating. Water resistant varieties provide protection for only 40 minutes after water/sweat exposure. Very water-resistant varieties provide protection for only 80 minutes after water or sweat exposure. So, make sure you are slathering up at least every two hours.
It is also important to remember that we can reduce our risk by avoiding sun exposure during peak hours, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., using sun-protective clothing and wide brim hats, in addition to broad spectrum sunscreens.
With so many choices of sunscreen on the market, finding a sunscreen that checks all the boxes can be a bit of a chore! With recent reports of benzene (a known carcinogen) found in some sunscreens, the search can be downright overwhelming. To help take some of the sting out of finding a safe and effective sunscreen, we have included a list of safe brands provided by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).